Top 5 Things To Know About The PCT In Washington State:
Overall You Don’t Need Permits In Advance –
While many sections of the PCT require planning far in advance (for example, in California), by the time you reach Washington State the crowds have dwindled considerably. Much of the trail passes through wilderness, in the National Forest. You may be required to carry a permit, but it is self-fill as you enter the wilderness.
The Terrain Is So Varied –
From 180 feet at the Bridge of Gods at the Washington State border to 7,126 feet at the highest, Lakeview Ridge, near the Canadian border. From deep forest, to subalpine meadows, to alpine tundra, the trail constantly goes up and down, over many passes and around ridges. The first half of the PCT in Washington State is quite easy to walk and only has a few tricky streams (off of Mt. Adams). As the trail continues on from Snoqualmie Pass at I-90, the terrain becomes what people think of the PCT as: stunning mountain trail, with many lakes, and alpine meadows. As the trail winds towards Canada, the trail becomes more rugged and higher in elevation.
The Trail Passes Through 2 National Parks –
Mount Rainier and North Cascades are both crossed. However, because of horses and dogs traditionally using the PCT, there are different rules for the PCT, versus the normal park trails. Mount Rainier’s section has no official camping spots, however, there is ample space in a clearing at Anderson Lake. The lake is in the park, the camping sits literally across the trail, in the national forest.
A Lonely Walk –
The trail crosses only 6 major roads (Hwy 14, 12, 410, I-90, 2 and 20). Only one two of those have services nearby (Hwy 12 at White Pass has a small store, and I-90 has more choices, including hotels and restaurants). The trail crosses many forest service roads, but these are remote and often are accessed from Eastern Washington, leading to long drives in. This makes the trail less a party/casual event, and makes it a remote, wilderness trail. While there are crowded trails near the paved mountain pass roads, within 10 miles the trail is nearly empty. This does mean a backpacker must plan well in advance and not rely on services.
It Will Snow In Summer –
Hope for sun and balmy weather, but plan for cold, wet, windy, and yes, snowy weather. Even in August. The good news is those August snows melt often in a few hours. But in later months, such as October, it often never gets above freezing. The trail will often be clear (no snow), but is frozen solid. Always tuck in more warmth than you think you will need!